Monday, September 10, 2007

The New Kid

Okay, daily hasn't worked out very well so far so here's a long one to make up for it.

Once upon a time a new kid came to town.

He didn’t particularly like where he had come from. He had lived among bullies. He had been picked on. Pushed around. Told what he could and couldn’t do. Told what to think, what to believe, how to act. When he tried to voice his opinion he was told to keep it to himself, that his opinion didn’t matter. Whenever he spoke up for himself and tried to protest his treatment he was smacked around and threatened with punishment. He was unhappy not having any control over his own fate and was unable to see a future for himself. Life became unbearable. Finally he made the difficult decision to leave everything he had ever known behind and go somewhere new.

When he arrived at his new home he was nervous, frightened even but at the same time excited. Everything was new, foreign, unknown. He knew it was natural to be frightened of the unknown. What if it turns out to be bad? Well, he tried very hard to remember that the unknown isn’t good or bad it’s just…unknown. After it was understood he could decide if it was good or bad so he chose to focus on the potential good in every new experience. After all, could it be any worse than where he had come from? He liked the idea of being in a new place, being able to make a fresh start far away from those who mistreated him. He set to work living his new life. And work it was, for life wasn’t easy in this new place. But it was good. And for the first time in as long as he could remember, he was happy.

It didn’t take long before he realized that problems can’t just be walked away from and left behind. They have a way of following you, trying to continue being problems. The people from his old home knew where he was and they reached out and tried to continue interfering in his life. They felt he owed them for his existence and that he would continue to owe them. They believed this debt that they thought he owed gave them the right to control him forever. That he belonged to them and he should submit to their will for the rest of his life. He disagreed.

He had experienced life outside of their control. He understood how life was supposed to be lived now. He had the opportunity to decide the course of his own life, to express his own opinions, to follow his own beliefs, to be happy. He had freedom. He knew that he could never live under their control again. And he told them so. Timidly at first because he had been kept down for so long and wasn’t used to open disagreement. They reacted the way bullies always react, with hostility and threats of punishment. But this time, because they were separated by distance those threats weren’t easy to enforce. His confidence and conviction grew. His voice became loud and strong. He tried reason, discussion, debate, negotiation all to no avail. Eventually it grew to open argument, an outright refusal to come to terms and eventually, an ultimatum. As they grew ever more hostile he grew ever more ardent in his desire to protect the freedom he had found. They again responded with warnings of punishment and this time, to prove they were serious, sent representatives to carry out their threats. But he was no longer willing to sit still and quietly take their punishment. Once and for all he had to stand up to the bully. And so they fought. Long and hard. Both were injured. Both were bloodied. He fought desperately and was very nearly defeated. But in the end he won. And the bully finally backed down.

Afterward, as his wounds healed he thought about his struggle and his hard-won victory. He thought about where he had come from and how he had been treated. He remembered how it had first felt to experience his new life. And, after tasting freedoms that he had never known he remembered how it felt to have someone try to take those freedoms away and make him submit to his old life. Having experienced life without those freedoms he knew that they should never be taken for granted. He vowed never to do so.

He moved forward, charting the course of his life and navigating by the star of his belief in the rights and freedoms that all people should have. He was far from perfect. He stumbled and made mistakes along the way as everyone does. But always he held fast to his beliefs in those rights and freedoms. He told everyone that would listen about those beliefs. He tried hard to live a life of character and compassion and eventually became the embodiment of his beliefs. He became an inspiration, an example of how life could be for those who could never imagine escaping the pain of the life they had.

Eventually he came to realize just how many others there were who were living in oppressive situations similar to, or even worse than the one he had come from. And out of compassion he wanted to help. Countless were helped simply by his example. They were given hope and found the courage to leave and come to the place that he had moved to. Others were inspired to stand up and deal directly with the situation at home. But he wanted to do more. He gave assistance where it was wanted. He reached out, opened dialogue, negotiated, persuaded. On a few occasions when the situation was dire he even fought. Again, being less than perfect, some mistakes were made. He showed occasional bad judgment and made poor decisions. He was drawn into some situations that he should have avoided, acted before fully understanding the situation or the people involved. But always, he was guided by his beliefs in the rights of the people.

As time passed it seemed that the more people he helped the more there were who needed his help. Who expected his help. It seemed in fact that fewer and fewer were being inspired by his example to help themselves and instead were waiting for him to do something for them. Along the way he had made friends who believed as he did and they contributed but the need had far outgrown their ability to keep up. So some went unaided. And some of those that went unaided became distressed over having been overlooked. That distress grew into resentment and in some cases outright anger. The enemies that he had made along the way recognized an opportunity and helped this anger and resentment to grow and spread. He underestimated the importance and could not conceive it possible that people could truly feel this way about him. He had been the example, the one people always looked up to. He was motivated by good intentions and driven by the conviction that everyone deserved the rights that he enjoyed. He kept on believing he would win out in the end and everyone would come around to believe his message. They’d all eventually want what he had.

But he was tired. And he was spread too thin. When his attention was focused on one, someone else was being ignored. And the resentment grew. Some, disillusioned and frustrated by their situation, angry over receiving no help, or help they didn’t ask for were encouraged by others with bad intentions to seek him out and attack him. He was wounded. Hurt deeply physically, emotionally, psychologically. How could they do that? He was only trying to help. Trying to release others from oppression and introduce them to the same rights and freedoms that he had found. He had to find those responsible! He knew it was only an angry, radical few and behind them were the very bullies guilty of repression and tyranny. He knew he was right and that if he gave those repressed people the freedom that he had they would understand and thank him and be forever grateful. In his anger he accused the oppressors. He intimidated and harassed them. He told them what to do and how to act. He refused to listen to their explanations. He gave them ultimatums. He threatened them with punishment.

During this difficult time his friends and even those who had never even met him reached out to comfort and counsel him. They gave their sympathy and offered help. They advised him to try a different course, to act more slowly, to think, to try to more fully understand the facts of the situation before deciding on an action. To live by his ideals and continue, even through pain, to be the example that he had always been for them. But he refused to listen. He was on a mission and nothing would interfere. He became stubborn and arrogant. He told his friends they were wrong. That they should keep their opinions to themselves and that their opinions didn’t matter. When his friends spoke openly of their belief that he was following the wrong course he publicly ridiculed them, accused them of being cowards and questioned their motives and the value of their friendship. Everyday he alienated them more and more until, one by one they turned from him and only a few remained.

He continued undaunted and when the evil ones did not capitulate to his demands he attacked with the ferocity of one convinced that he is right. And eventually they were vanquished. The oppressors were removed and the people were given their freedom. And their anger turned to hate.

His confusion mounted. He couldn’t understand what he had done wrong. He gave them their freedom. Freedom! They should be rejoicing. They should be on the same path to happiness that he had walked. Instead the attacks continued. And not knowing what else to do, he continued punishing the attackers. And in his frustration and fear he began to see attackers everywhere. Even where there were none. Everyone was suspect, even neighbors and loved ones. No one could be trusted. Especially those that were different. Those that looked different, thought differently, acted differently, behaved differently, held different beliefs. Those that disagreed with him. Those that were different…from him. He had forgotten how to understand different. Not understanding different meant it was unknown. The unknown wasn’t to be trusted. The unknown was bad. Those who were bad had to be found at all costs. But who were they? Not wanting to take chances everyone who came into his house was given rules that had to be followed. They were told where they could go and were they couldn’t. What they could do and not do. Some were spied on. He told lies and used questionable tactics but it was all justified, wasn’t it? It was for the greater good. Besides, those that were bad weren’t entitled to the precious rights and freedoms that he held dear. And he’d find the bad ones even if it meant denying those rights from some of those who were good, who were deserving. His intentions were pure. The ends would justify the means. He was on a mission and he wouldn't back down until that mission was accomplished.

This brings his story to where it is today. The ending has not yet been written. He is very slowly beginning to realize that the bullied has become the bully. That in his fervent desire to deliver his message he has become so completely focused on the delivery that he has forgotten the content of the message. His conscience is speaking to him. In a soft voice. Timidly at first because it had not been listened to for so long. But that voice will grow louder. Eventually he will hear its message and come to the realization that he has drifted off course. That he has lost sight of the star that he had navigated by for so long. He’ll remember the importance of the message and realize that the ends are hollow and meaningless if the means did not stay true to his character. He’ll reflect and someday awaken to the fact that the reason his freedom was so dear to him was because he stood up and asserted his right to have it. It was something that could never be given to him because it already belonged to him. It was treasured because it had been fought for, claimed, by him. The reason those he tried to force his help on resented him was because he hadn’t taken the time to understand their needs. He had tried to give them a gift of his beliefs without respecting the fact that they might have beliefs of their own. He tried to make a present of something that at the time they neither wanted nor were ready to have. Freedom was something that was already theirs but they were not prepared to reach for it, to claim it as he had.

He will someday come to realize that he was most helpful, most effective when he lived his beliefs but didn’t impose them on others. When, rather than force people to their feet, he helped them to stand when they tried to get up on their own. Rather than drag them down his path, he helped them learn to walk and to choose their own direction. When he lived a life of character and compassion and served as an example, an inspiration, of how life could be.
If only he could be told. But, like the freedom that he had to win for himself, this message can’t be given to him. He has to look within and discover it for himself. He has to remember his true character and begin again to listen to his conscience.

Just an idealistic little fairy tale. I'm quixotically hoping for a happily ever after. B.

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